As the saying goes, “pobody’s nerfect,” and that truth extends to elementary school teachers. When a teacher is legitimately bad at their job, parents face a tough decision. Not saying anything can put a kid behind or risk them losing enthusiasm for their education. Saying something can create an awkward situation and, in the case of truly bad teachers, risk fallout that might make matters even worse for kids. The question for parents is how to say something when you see something without jeopardizing the kid. This is doable, but kneejerk reactions won’t lead to resolution–strategy is required.
“The most important thing to do is to approach the problem from a collaborative perspective. You want to go in and start a conversation with a teacher as a problem solver.” says Katherine Firestone, founder of Fireborn Institute, which provides parents with strategies to improve the academic lives of their kids. “When you’re angry, that’s a terrible time to try and problem solve. No matter how angry you are, you have to suck it up and deal with it for your child.”
Firestone notes that most teachers chose the profession not for the massive salaries (ha!) but because they actually want to help kids. It’s highly unlikely that they’re bad on purpose. So if a kid who was once on track suddenly stops understanding math, or a previously happy kid starts coming home complaining about Mrs. Smith, the issue is likely linked to the teacher’s skill in managing the class and not their intentions.
That leaves the door open for a parent to take a breath and acknowledge that everyone probably want to see their kid succeed. Which should in turn help the parent speak to the teacher as a team member rather than an adversary. That parent/teacher relationship, according to Firestone, is crucial for a kid’s success because it sets the stage for a positive relationship.
“You want your child to have a positive relationship with the teacher if they need help in any way,” Firestone says, adding that a parent can help this along by being open about their kid’s life both at home and at school. “Disclose information about your child to your teacher. The more you can talk to the teacher about your child the naturally more they’re just going to like them.”
But the process of working with the teacher to solve problems should be carefully considered, according to Salpy Baharian Co-Founder of Teacher.org. She worked as a liaison between parents and teachers for many years as an instructional coordinator and codified some very specific steps for addressing a bad teacher.
“Ask the teacher, ‘How is my son or daughter doing in your class?’” explains Baharian. “That will open up the dialogue.”
That simple question will help parents take the emotional temperature of the teacher. It’s a good way to uncover bias and simply understand how the teacher sees their child. From there, inquiries move towards more concrete issues.
“Ask how they govern the classroom,” Baharian recommends. “It’ll give you a good idea about what the teacher thinks they’re doing.”
She stresses that parents should look for consistency in the teacher’s answers. Any good teacher should clearly understand their classroom management style, from assignment expectations to material organization. “If a teacher does not provide consistency in terms of the way those questions are answered then that means they are not sure what they’re doing in the classroom,” Baharian says.
She also points out that during interactions with the teacher, parents should be taking detailed notes. The reason for this is essentially so the parent can build a body of evidence if they need to take their concerns to an administrator.
It’s important to note that through the process, the mood of discourse needs to be frank, open, civil and collaborative in order to keep the classroom from becoming uncomfortable for the kid. Because the fact is that moving a child to another classroom can be incredibly difficult once the school year is well underway. That said, there are some charter schools that are willing to admit children throughout the year, if a parent feels the problem is bad enough to uproot a kid from fFriends.
Regardless of who the parent is talking to in the process, however, Baharian says that parents need to press for a plan of action towards a very specific goal, whatever that may be. “A parent can ignite the change by asking the administrator what steps are going to be taken to resolve the problem and when they can expect to see an outcome,” she says.